Menlo Community Shares Opinions on How the Pandemic Has Impacted Student Life and Spirit

Students+Zachary+Ruwitch%2C+Ana+Banchs+Rodriguez+and+Desiree+Ramon-Aquino+sit+in+the+Creative+Arts+and+Design+Center+after+school%2C+helping+one+another+with+AP+US+History+projects.+Staff+Photo%3A+Sophia+Hinshaw.

Sophia Hinshaw

Students Zachary Ruwitch, Ana Banchs Rodriguez and Desiree Ramon-Aquino sit in the Creative Arts and Design Center after school, helping one another with AP US History projects. Staff Photo: Sophia Hinshaw.

Sophia Hinshaw, Staff Writer

The COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing restrictions have undoubtedly been detrimental to Menlo School’s student life and spirit. Over the last 12 months — after the resumption of on-campus learning — school leadership has taken a number of steps to bring back the spirit, with some success.

Even with many spirit activities being restricted to comply with COVID safety guidelines, students believe that Menlo has room to bring back its spirit. “[There was] virtually no spirit [during the 2020-2021 school year],” Co-Assembly Coordinator Reese Grosso said. Since then, staff and student leaders have been working to create community connection through spirit activities, like music on the quad and Random Acts of Fun. In December, the nonprofit organization Animal Assisted Happiness brought farm animals to the loop for juniors to help them destress, and parents brought hot chocolate and donuts to the sophomores.

“We need to lift people’s spirits. If we weren’t putting on the assembly, or if we weren’t doing the spirit activity at lunch, it wouldn’t happen. Our goal for this whole year has just been to invigorate the student body with spirit,” Assembly Co-Coordinator Hailey Dunsby said. 

Despite COVID’s suppression of spirit, Menlo was able to host the annual holiday assembly that rallied students and teachers alike. “The Holiday Assembly was awesome,” sophomore Norberto Aguilar said. The 2021 Holiday Assembly was the first whole school event held in the gym since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The only COVID-related restrictions were that masks were required, but other than that, the assembly operated in a pre-pandemic style. Although the assembly could have been seen as the beginning of normalcy, Menlo returned to stricter Covid guidelines in light of the new Omicron variant, reducing school spirit.

 Menlo and San Mateo County as a whole saw a spike in COVID cases at the end of December. Consequently, since the start of the third quarter, Menlo has had to re-establish tighter COVID restrictions. Standard privileges, such as assemblies in the gym, were temporarily suspended, although they slowly were reinstated as cases dropped in late January.

“Because of COVID, things are getting rejected left and right,” sophomore Class President Beti Essa said. The 2022 Semi-Formal was delayed to avoid restrictions and is taking place on March 17 instead of Jan. 22, 2022. “Since we changed it from the January date, it was hard to find another,” Essa said.

Another difficulty is finding activities that will engage the student body. Not all students enjoy modified assemblies. Aguilar was not happy with the outdoor assemblies because of hot weather. “I don’t like […] spirit assemblies outside,” Aguilar said. 

It’s also challenging to find content that resonates with all students, especially with Zoom activities. “Assemblies are sometimes boring because we already know what they are explaining,” sophomore Colin Ho said.

Despite the criticisms, the student body has received certain spirit activities and assemblies well, and many are enthusiastic about the efforts of the student council and the faculty.  “I enjoy spirit activities. They are a way to de-stress from everything that’s going on,” freshman Ella Litsur said.